Love in the Time of Cholera?


“His examination revealed that he had no fever, no pain anywhere, and that his only concrete feeling was an urgent desire to die. All that was needed was shrewd questioning…to conclude once again that the symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

When I was visiting my mother in the states, my neighbor, Julio, posted this photo of our puppy on Facebook. He said, “Don’t worry, Debbie. I’ll take care of Capie for you while Ron is in the hospital.”

                                           Where are my mommy and daddy?
Capie copy
Frantically, I called Ron. He was admitted to our local hospital with severe dehydration. I knew he hadn’t been feeling well, but he reassured me that he had everything under control. Still, after shrewd questioning…Do you have a fever? Did you wash the mangoes before eating them? Did you drink the unpasteurized milk or cheese that Marina made for us from Princesa? Do the blood tests indicate parasites? …I concluded that the symptoms of distant love were the same as those of cholera.

                       Did they use gloves when they inserted the IVs I wondered.
Ron in hospital 2 copySimone gathered bedding for Ron’s stay in the hospital ( it’s a bare bones kind of place). Robinson brought Gatorade and yogurt to coat and smooth his stomach ravaged by a massive bacterial infection and replenish electrolytes. Theresa translated test results from Spanish to English for me. Gloria barked orders at the hospital, while Theresa and Francisco tended to Ron like protective mother hens.

                           Smile for the camera, Ron. I need to reassure Debbie.
Ron 3 copyAfter four IVs with strong antibiotics, Ron was released from the hospital with four syringes, four vials of another potent antibiotic, and a week of pills to counteract the infection. Theresa gave him his daily injections and I returned to a weak, yet alive husband.

Yesterday, he returned to the lab and the results of his stool and blood samples indicated the bacterial infection was gone.  What a relief! I am so grateful for my loving friends, the doctors and nurses that cared for him with limited supplies, and a community that cares. Plus, the total cost was $30. The hospital was free, but he went to a private clinic for the lab tests, and he had to pay a little for the pills and antibiotic injections.

Did the test results show the exact type of bacterial infection?
Unfortunately, no. According to Ron’s symptoms, it was a toss-up between Cholera and E. Coli.
Cholera symptoms
E. Coli symptoms

How to avoid a massive bacterial infection in a developing country.

1. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
We use 5-10 drops of iodine in a quart of water to wash our fruits and vegetables. We disinfect our kitchen counters and cutting boards with a spray bottle containing vinegar and water. Once a week, I clean the counters with Clorox.

2. Do not drink unpasteurized milk or eat homemade cheeses. E. Coli bacteria on a cow’s udder can get into raw milk.

3. Drink bottled water.
Although our water comes from our municipality, we still run it through two filter systems. One thing that does concern me is swimming in the lake during the dry season. When the lake is low and the farmers herd their cattle to the lake to drink, it can become contaminated with feces.

4. Be careful when buying bagged fruit from street vendors.
We watched a street vendor cut and bag fruit. After she cut the fruit, she used the same knife to clean under her fingernails.

5. Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B. Why do you need them?
Hepatitis is a viral infection, not bacterial. Antibiotics will usually kill bacteria, but they are not effective against viruses.

I know it’s impossible to live in a vacuüm. We try to take precautions, but we live in a developing country where horses, cows, and pigs run freely, where the locals milk their cows and goats without a clue to proper sanitation, where the local chicken ladies start their cooking fires with plastic bags, and where geckos, chickens, and other animals have no respect for the placement of their poop.

I suspect the mangoes were the cause of Ron’s infection…but, quien sabe. We still graciously accept the gifts of fresh cream and cheese from Marina’s cow Princesa, yet when she leaves, we throw it away or feed it to some stray dogs in the neighborhood.  It’s too difficult to explain in Spanish and she would never understand. Honestly, the locals think every sickness is a kidney infection. When I returned, everyone wanted to know how Ron’s kidneys were functioning.

Please take precautions when living or visiting a developing country. There are some BAD NEWS microorganisms out there!

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19 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Cholera?

  1. Yikes, how frightening for the both of you! Thank goodness Ron realized he needed medical care. Please let him know we wish him well.
    Thanks for posting the valuable travel tips, we will be more cautious on our next visit. We are hoping we didn’t eat bags of fruit from the same woman you saw picking her nails with the knife- ugh!
    You guys sure have a cute little puppy

    • Judy, it was especially frightening because I was in the states. Thanks for your well wishes. I’ll be sure to tell Ron. He’s almost back to normal…if there is any such thing as normal. lol Our little puppy is getting cuter everyday.. now that I’ve figured out how to keep him from nipping at our ankles…a spray bottle full of water does the trick!

  2. So glad to hear Ron is ok! Must have been scary. I have had some really nasty stomach bugs when traveling but nothing that required a hospital stay. Glad he is doing better! 🙂

  3. Echo Lisa’s reply. How horrible for you both to be faced with this.am glad Ron is on the mend and got the right treatment. Good advice on living healthy in a developing country.

      • I had friends who lived in Ecuador for four years and none of their family visited them. All it takes is hearing something like this and the ill at ease stay in their comfort zone. Many just prefer to hear about your life but not experience it themselves, although, I do hope they pay you a visit.

  4. yikes yikes yikes! i am so sorry that he’s been so ill, and sorry that you were stretched between two loved ones! it’s comforting to know there’s a backup system of extended family looking over you…

    while researching the el nino years, i read that many people died from cholera.. cholera? that got my attention, and i asked questions and wondered, ‘how does one prepare for an outbreak of cholera, and how does one get cholera?’

    ecoli is a nasty bug as well.. my mother suffered from that once, and she was a very ill woman.

    you have given some wise advice, and it’s nice to have the big guns/antibiotics and iv drips when those nasty germs and viruses kick us down.

    may the bad bugs wash down the lake/the river and out to sea – forever!
    z

    • Z…I don’t think Ron wanted me to write this post, but it is so important to understand the causes and effects of these nasty bacteria. I was at my brother’s house researching Cholera, E. Coli, and Hepatitis A. My brother was a huge help because he’s an anesthetist and he could help me understand the antibiotics and why they were given. Both E. Coli and Cholera are horrible, horrible, horrible. I think most of his symptoms leaned toward Cholera. It sounds so medieval doesn’t it? Poor guy. He was so sick and tried to take care of our new puppy. I’m so grateful that he realized he needed to go to the hospital. I read that dehydration is what kills people with Cholera. Your body just shuts down. Geez! I was so scared. Yep! Those bad bugs washed to the lake..hopefully forever. 🙂

      • I’m glad that he’s better, and all of us are more prepared for dodging those bad illnesses because of his experience.

        no, he wouldn’t want to be in the spotlight, though i am glad to know and equally glad that he’s better.

        stay well, as the rainy season will be bringing more dengue – and there’s a new mosquito-born virus – i read about it in a newspaper from el salvador when i was on the last avianca/taca flight last week.

        z

  5. So glad to hear your husband is recovering from his recent infection. My son-in-law was treated for an infection at that very same hospital just a couple of months ago. When you describe it as “bare bones”, you certainly are not exaggerating!! I am excited to be headed to Ometepe to visit my daughter and son-in-law for a couple of weeks in August!! Maybe if we venture to your side of the island, I can look you up!

    • Haha! You know exactly what I mean about our local hospital. But, the care that he received was fantastic. I suspect the doctors see a lot of bacterial infections in Moyogalpa. Thank goodness they knew exactly what he needed. I’m baking a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for the doctors and nurses and taking them to the hospital this weekend. Please venture to our side of the island when you come. I’d love to meet you.

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